This article is not meant to be controversial, though it does address a controversial topic: guns, mass shootings, the gun lobby and the anti-gun lobby. I offer no solution to the current debates over gun legislation and am not even sure there is one.
Both sides of the debate are entrenched in their positions and unwilling to change, which is what happens whenever fear frames a debate. After every shooting spree, the anti-gun lobby exclaims, “We have to do something!” and the gun lobby replies, “What you’re suggesting won’t help. In fact, it will only make things worse.” And both sides make legitimate points.
A political compromise seems remote, and even if one is found it will not solve the problem of violence. So rather than adding one more voice to the din, I want to address religious people generally and Christians in particular, on whichever side of the gun debate they find themselves. My concern is not legislative but moral, not political but spiritual.
After last year’s horrific attack in San Bernardino, Dr. Jerry Falwell, the president of Liberty University, called on students to take a concealed weapons permit course offered at the college. He went on to imply that if some of the people killed in San Bernardino had a conceal-carry permit – “…if they had had what I’ve got in my back pocket right now” – they would not have died.
That comment was guaranteed to stir the political pot, and perhaps that is what Dr. Falwell intended. What he went on to say, though, was ill-advised and unwise. He said, “I’ve always thought, if more good people had conceal carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in killing…. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
When a furor erupted over this comment, Falwell tweeted that his critics knew very well that he didn’t mean Muslims in general, but Muslim extremists. Still, the idea of the president of a Christian college talking about ending Muslims and exhorting Christians to “teach them a lesson” is profoundly disturbing, especially in the light of the anti-Muslim rhetoric sweeping the country.
Even if we take Dr. Falwell’s comments as he says he meant them (and I think we should), they undermine the biblical instruction to be people of peace. Whether one carries a gun or not, fights for second amendment rights or demands restrictions on gun ownership, if one is a Christian, he or she should be known as a person of peace.
The biblical teaching is impressive. Christ’s followers are to “make every effort to do what leads to peace.” Further, St. Paul tells Christians, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With everyone, not just Christians and not just Americans, but with everyone. God has called the people of Jesus “to live in peace.”
The Christian message is called “the gospel of peace” and Christians are to be ruled by the peace of Christ. The deity Christians worship and obey is known as “the God of peace.” The Bible teaches that this God has made peace, and has done so – it is worth noting – through sacrifice rather than through force.
Christians have been called to follow God’s example and be peacemakers. Jesus blessed those who make peace and promised that they would be called the children of God. Why? Because they bear the family resemblance. Christians are not only called to live at peace with others, but to facilitate peace between those who are opposed to each other.
For Christians, peace begins with reconciliation with God. Once a peaceful relationship has been established with him through faith in his Son, a state of inward peace becomes possible. And those at peace with God and with themselves have the ability to bring peace to others.
If guns – whether controlling them or carrying them – are the solution to violence in America, then there is reason to despair. But such a view is a gross oversimplification. What will change the calculus of violence is not gun ownership or gun control, but people – people who know, seek and make peace. And the people of Jesus are uniquely positioned to lead the way.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, September 3, 2016